Sometimes when you are working on a recording session, it’s not uncommon that one musician wants to hear a different headphone mix of the music than the rest of the band. The drummer may want to hear lots of the bass guitar and kick drum, while the guitarist wants to hear mostly himself (not a rare thing among guitarists). Achieving this task isn’t difficult, provided you are in a studio that has two discrete headphone cue feeds. If, however, you are in a studio that has only one headphone feed, then you’re forced to improvise with the resources you have available.
If you’re lucky, the studio will have an extra amplifier sitting around. If not, you may need to borrow the amplifier from the stereo system in the lounge or the studio manager’s office (always ask permission first). It doesn’t need to be a Bryston or anything like that, but it must have enough juice to power a couple of sets of headphones.
If the studio’s cue system is fed from, for example, auxiliary sends 5 and 6, then use them to send your first stereo mix to whichever musicians want it. Then, for the second mix, take the outputs of another pair of auxiliary sends from the patchbay (3 and 4 will work fine) and route them to the imputs of your “borrowed” amplifier. Connect the outputs of that amplifier to a headphone cue box via a banana plug to XLR adapter cable (or something similar). Connect your headphones to the cue box and – abracadabra! – instant second stereo headphone mix!
An important note, though: caution must be taken when setting the levels on the power amp and attention to the impedance of the headphones should be observed so that you don’t end up blowing up a set of headphones by mistake. Musicians hate that, studio owners hate that even more and loasting headphones is generally considered and engineering no-no.
Going to the extra trouble of creating a second cue system can be a little time-consuming while setting it up, but the benefits can be rewarding. If the musicians have the exact mix in their headphones that they want, they will likely give a better musical performance. The better the musical performance, the better the song will be and the happier everyone involved will be.
George Kourounis, Studio Instructor, Trebas Insitute/Engineer, Cherry Beach Sound